Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld
The 16-day government shutdown came to an end early this morning. Apparently the warnings that the U.S. would run out of the money needed to pay its debts, causing a widespread bank collapse, were enough to get the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives to break their rule against moving bipartisan bills without the majority of the Republican Party’s support. Of course, the deal that was hashed out really just kicks the can down the road to January when the budget negotiations and hand-wringing over the debt ceiling will face another deadline.
What’s so troubling about the last few weeks of political gridlock and brinksmanship is that no one seems to care about the most vulnerable families and children in our communities who have already borne the brunt of the effects of the austerity-craziness that’s taken over Washington, DC. Two years ago, when the government was also reaching the debt ceiling and struggling to pass a budget (sound familiar?) we ended up with sequestration – budget cuts “designed to be so onerous … that lawmakers would hustle to replace them.” But the plan of hanging horrifying budget cuts over the heads of lawmakers backfired and the budget bomb went off earlier this year with across-the-board slashing of education, child care, Head Start, meals for seniors, housing, heating assistance, unemployment insurance, and much more. But the sequester was just the beginning. Last month the House Republicans pushed through a bill that slashed billions of dollars from the food stamp program. Then when the government shutdown at the beginning of this month, advocates worried that the WIC program would be suspended and millions of low-income pregnant women, babies and toddlers would lose access to infant formula and food at a critical time in child development. And now we’re going to face this same debate over how much more to shred the social safety next when this latest budget deal expires on January 15.
It’s clear that the Tea Party is committed to keeping our nation in a state of constant crisis over funding for basic services. As Colorlines noted before the government shutdown, the last two weeks without a fully functioning federal government is actually the right-wing movement’s utopian vision realized. The problem on our side is that we have consistently underestimated that movement. They aren’t silly or short-sighted, they’re committed to shrinking government down enough to drown it in the bathtub (to borrow from Grover Norquist). Sure they may have lost the battle this week, but they’re thinking like a movement and looking at the long-term battle for ideas and values. When will our side start doing the same?